Fried chicken has been gentrified. Like a once-grubby street trading in graffiti tags for gleaming condos, the down-home bona fide has been ripped from the deep fryer and given the ritz treatment at Sarah Simmons’s fizz-and-fowl concept.
The chicken-and-champagne pairing is a cutesy idea, sure, but Simmons, the doyenne of culinary salon City Grit, has the kitchen clout to, mostly, rise above shtick.
Down a flight of precariously steep steps, you’ll find the slip of a space, comprising two railroad-slim dining rooms made even more claustrophobic by wall panels carved out and crammed with ice for chilling bottles.
Elbow through to the spacious backyard, an Insta-ready setting of tabasco pepper trees, twinkling strung lights and floppy-hatted women toasting with punch-filled mason jars. (Hokey jars pop up too often here, from shrimp rilletes to treacly, potted desserts.)
Though plagued by doltish puns—chicken dishes can be found under “Fowl Play” and shellfish is dubbed “Chicken of the Sea”—the North Carolina native’s menu is more sophisticated than that wordplay lets on. Deviled eggs ($5) are elevated with a shard of dehydrated sriracha flake, while shrimp and buttermilk-smooth grits ($24) are cleverly upgraded with Louisiana tasso ham and a lick of buttery barbecue sauce.
Then there’s that namesake bird, primped and pampered more than ladies who lunch: The Amish country chicken is dry-brined in cayenne for 48 hours, dipped in buttermilk, dredged in flour and skillet-fried one piece at a time.
The coddled fowl is served as a half-chicken with ($55) or without ($16) a split of Pol Roger or, more flashily, in a silver champagne bucket with a choice of three sides ($65). It’s not the best new bird in town—that would be the lemon-tinged version at fellow ampersanded, South-focused rival Root & Bone—but even without finger-lickin’ crunch, Simmons’s chicken is moist and pleasingly peppery.
The second half of the focus fares better: Wine director Ariel Arce’s well-chosen champagnes highlight small growers (Camille Saves, Marcel Mineaux), poured in approachable wine glasses instead of wedding-toast flutes and detailed with handy tasting notes like “crisp green apple” and “brioche & spice.” But couched under categories like “Champagne with Curves,” it’s a struggle to wrench free this serious, wine-loving restaurant from its Pinterest-ready pitch.